Wild Arms Complete Tracks
Wild Arms Complete Tracks
April 5, 2006
Buy at CDJapan
The Wild Arms series is interesting. Instead of usual medieval or cyberpunk world, it features a more ‘wild west’ influenced one, with just hints of medieval and futuristic places. It makes up for a much more varied kind of game than the usual RPG fare. Of course, the music has to reflect that. Wild Arms was released for the PlayStation a bit before Final Fantasy VII, so it was a bit overlooked by role playing enthusiasts. However, its music is nothing to ignore. Michiko Naruke, who would become the series’ composer, had to give the music some character, so it wouldn’t be just another RPG score. Since this is a western influenced world, she had to use instruments that wouldn’t sound out of place in that context. She chose to use whistling, acoustic guitar, and sometimes a harmonica or castanets.
While the score was iconic, its treatment by record labels was less than complimentary. The original one disc release for the game, the Wild Arms Original Game Soundtrack is one of the shoddiest I’ve ever seen: with less than half the total number of tracks, and some of the better ones aren’t even featured. The Wild Arms Complete Tracks resolved this problem in 2007. Featuring two discs of music and nearly 80 tracks, it finally reflected the full scope of Naruke’s achievement. The tracks even received a synth boost. The problem? Most of the exclusives just aren’t that great, particularly out of context.
“To the End of the Wilderness” is carried mainly by whistling and an acoustic guitar, but the percussion, strings, and brass also come to support the lead instruments. It’s safe to say that is pretty much the best scene-setter track of the entire score; no other breathes wild west like this one. The aptly named “The Warrior’s Whistle (Boomerang’s Theme)” is similar, with whistling and a harmonica being the main players, and percussion, acoustic guitar, and strings accompaning it. It sounds even better than before with the modest resampling and remastering on the complete release, allowing each force to resonate more richly. However, it’s still clear this composition was created for the PlayStation, which is certainly no bad thing, though those expecting something absolutely high-tech and awesome should head for the remake Wild Arms Alter Code: F instead.
Obviously, not just the setting needs appropriate music; the characters do too. Rudy, the protagonist, gets an adventurous theme, as seen in “Lone Bird in the Wilderness.” It soon becomes apparent why this title; the A section of the track employs a woodwind that does resemble the tweeting of a bird. The B section, now, that’s where the fun is. A trumpet joins in to play the melody, accompanied by strings and then by the very same woodwind from the beginning. It’s a bit short, but repeated listens do not wear the track out. That couldn’t happen in any way, because that is the world map music, and we all know what happens when the most overheard composition in the game tends to the annoying side of the Force, don’t we, Blue Fields?
“The Bird That Soars Through the Skies,” Emma’s theme, also doubles as the flying music. It’s even shorter than Rudy’s motif, which can be both a blessing and a curse. If you, much like yours truly, really like the beginning, you’ll find it great that it’s repeated again in a short period of time. However, if you like your air travels to be developed, then this piece is not for you. Coincidentally, the bird here is also the same bird as in Rudy’s theme: the woodwind used in both is the same one, each for a different purpose. The rhythm in “Lone Bird in the Wilderness” helps it to be more down to Earth, and the one in “The Bird That Soars Through the Skies” helps it to soar. And to top off our trifecta of travelling themes, we’ve got Bartholomew’s “Passing Through the Stormy Seas,” which, as you’ve probably guessed, is the sea travel theme. Quite adventurous, it already starts with a kick of the brass over some strings and percussion. It’s probably one of my favourite character themes here, simply for its attempt at being this epic sailing motif. It’s not what I would called “epic,” but it’s no slouch either.
Well, Zet has to be an awesome guy to have such a spiffy theme like “Huh?” “Feel good” is the right word here, folks. It’s just plain fun to listen to. The opening castanets might lead you to believe it’ll be a Spanish-flavored theme, but nope. Also a tad short, but there’s no problem when it comes to this track. Jack’s theme, “Getting Rich Quick!” and Jane’s theme, “Don’t Think I’m a Child, I’m a Young Lady!” are the quirky pieces of music that are necessary in soundtracks to keep the mood light. Jack’s, at first, may seem a bit dumb, but it fits him; it’s supposed to represent his greed, hunger for treasures or whatever. Calamity Jane’s has got quite a happy-go-lucky mood, very befitting of a child. No, excuse me, young lady. Lady Harken’s “A Moment of Tension” is pretty much the usual RPG hurry theme: fast-paced rhythms, tense atmosphere, you know the works. I don’t even feel like describing hurry themes; they’re quintessential to every role-playing score, yet hated and scorned by many. Interesting, I’ve used “quintessential” in a review. Now I am officially fancy.
You know what else is quintessential to any RPG soundtrack? Battle themes. And this is an area which I believe the Wild Arms series has always shined, since Naruke’s “Critical Hit!” all the way to Agematsu’s “When the Heart Ignites,” from Wild Arms 5. Speaking of “Critical Hit!” that’s one theme you’ll have to fight to forget (pun unfortunately very much intended. I’m sorry.). That badly synthesized melody is a tough cookie to be forgotten. I mean, it’s such a simple track (strings over percussion, brass over percussion, strings over livelier percussion, repeat), and it stays so long in your head that you have to give Naruke some props. Her boss battle theme, “Battle: Mid-Boss,” isn’t that fun, and it sort of seems to have ripped off Super Mario RPG. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it feels very old-school Shimomura-ish. Also, note that one of the better exclusives on the complete release is “Battle: Demon”, positioned as a bonus track here. It blends the traditional western style of the score with some swashbuckling rhythms. The result? Fantastic.
Don’t think Wild Arms is nothing but characters and battle themes. Nope. There are also the locales! One of the earliest tracks on the complete release, “Cold Darkness” is an ambient dungeon theme that does nothing to be fun; it’s only after 30 seconds that the annoying percussion ostinato and suspended notes go away, only to return a mere 15 seconds later. “Courage,” another dungeon theme, is not only better, but it’s an arrangement of “To the End of the Wilderness.” +5 cool points just for that, and another 5 for being a worthy arrangement. It gets you in the mood for exploring, if not for the loot and the battles, then to listen to it over and over again. “Marsh Where the Migrant Birds Gather” is also a welcome exclusive here featuring a great choice of lead instrument: the panflute. It’s definitely one of the understated gems of the soundtrack.
Focusing on the town themes, the creatively titled “Town” feels very tribal, with a pan flute playing the melody and some tribal drums, whilst “Adlehyde Castle” gets a noble fanfare, to represent its greatness. “A Monastery” is quite a playful piece of music, with a woodwind playing the melody with the aid of a piano, a xylophone and low strings. “Village of the Eruu” and “To the Sea of Stars” (which would get a fantastic theme in Wild Arms 3) represent the fantasy side of RPG lore, being both very mystical tunes. The former uses some choir to gain some divineness, and the woodwind playing the melody sounds quite lighthearted, which makes for a great combination; the latter makes good use of chimes to get sort of an other-worldly sound, even if they’re just in the background. Finally, a special mention should be given to “Ancient Civilization Exhibition”, an exclusive to the Wild Arms Complete Tracks. Well, admitted, the track isn’t that special, but it still has a cute (and surprisingly not annoying) slapstick march quality to it.
Of all the new themes added for the two disc release of Wild Arms, the event themes are the most numerous. Sadly, most are short and, even during the 30 seconds or so that they play, not really worth your time. Remember “The Cold Darkness”? No, me neither. But the likes of that theme are actually relatively good compared to “Omen of Ostracism”, just a pile of string tremolos, “Kishum Flame”, which loops a disturbing number of times in just 0:51, or “Agitation to Destruction”, something Nakano might create on a bad day. Naruke actually puts plenty of effort into the fully orchestrated and importantly titled “WILD ARMS”, or the hilariously styled funk number “Running Spirit”, but even these are too short to make it to my esteemed playlist.
Admittedly, some exclusives are a little more elaborate than others despite still being underwhelming. “What You’re Looking For is on the Calm Beach”, for example, is pretty much a sweet little woodwind melody over a guitar accompaniment; it doesn’t really go anywhere, but allows you to rest a bit before the adventuring begins in Bartholomew’s theme. “Eulogy of Ruin” starts well with its opening bass line and creepy synth noises are a wonderful start to the track, but it just goes downhill from there. It’s very repetitive: the same noises from the beginning all the way till the end, the same percussion ostinato, the short melody. It gets a little development towards the end, but it doesn’t rescue this piece from mediocrity. And mediocrity is what the Wild Arms Complete Tracks offers in bucketloads compared to its one disc counterpart.
Moving on to the end of the game, we’ve got “Battle: Mother.” Its minimalist approach can (unfortunately) be compared to Mitsuda’s “The One Who Bares Fangs at God,” which, besides the awesome name, is pretty much nothing, just some choir and some percussion. Naruke’s theme has a bit more going for it, with some rapid string passages for tension and what seems to be a harpsichord going up and down the keyboard. “Battle: Zeik” is a lot more fight-oriented, with fast-paced string ostinatos, orchestra hits that hit alternating speakers, piano passages and, more importantly than its parts is the sum of everything: an adrenaline-pumping fight tune. The last of Naruke’s tracks I need to mention is, well, the last track literally, “To the End of the Wilderness ~ Into New Voyages.” If “To the End of the Wilderness” opens up the western saga that is Wild ARMs, then “To the End of the Wilderness ~ Into New Voyages” finishes it in style. I would compare it to Nakano’s ever growing ambient themes, as it sort of does just that, but I won’t, even though I just did. It grows, bassoons join the guitar’s opening licks, until it’s just not possible, and the composition is developed to the melody of “To the End of the Wilderness”.
The review isn’t over yet. I haven’t mentioned Kazuhiko Toyama’s orchestral arrangements. And I really must, because they’re wonderful. Also, he arranged both “To the End of the Wilderness” AND “To the End of the Wilderness ~ Onto New Voyages,” so expectations here are quite high. From the tribal sounds of “Demon’s Castle” and “Return to Ashes and Dusk,” both employing nothing but the wonderful Keio University Choir and percussion, to the Romantic “A Sister’s Thoughts,” there is enough variety here to keep listeners entertained for a long time. Whereas these tracks were clustered together on the Wild Arms Original Game Soundtrack, they’re actually dispersed in the Wild Arms Complete Tracks. This both follows the order of the game better and also enables a more even distribution of highlights. So no complaints from me.
Of all the orchestrations, I just have to mention the wonderful “Clash and a Promise,” which begins as a dissonant piece, then, in true Wild Arms spirit, draws a bit from the western musicality and adds a guitar (and a pad), only to add piano, strings and the choir afterwards. It’s like a cornucopia of settings; pretty cool. The other one of his tracks that deserves praise is “Morning Journey.” It starts featuring one of those organ thingies from the 70s and strings, but then develops in a way that makes the Korg fit in with the string ostinato and the melody on the winds, even though it disappears quite soon after said development starts. It’s just a marvelous piece of music, very upbeat and joyful. And finally, the ending theme, “Promise to the Blue Sky,” sung by Machiko Watanabe and arranged by Takeo Miratsu. Watanabe has a different voice than the ones we’re used to hearing in these RPG pop ballads; she can sing, but her voice isn’t overly sweet that it’s annoying. She sounds quite mature. “Promise to Blue Sky” is an enjoyable little J-Pop song, but if you’re thinking of buying this album, surely this isn’t the sole reason.
It’s great that, after so many fan complaints over the years, the Wild Arms Complete Tracks have finally been released. It features twice as much music as the original Wild Arms soundtrack, a more sensible track order, and also a considerable synth boost. That said, with a handful of exceptions, the exclusives on this release are generally short supplementary tracks not intended for stand-alone listening, so make the album less consistent overall. That said, there is still plenty of excellent music, both exclusive and ported over. There are those amazing orchestral pieces, catchy melodies throughout the albums, blood-pumping battle themes here and there, and even some great bonuses. For what would become the first of a few, Naruke did a great job. Of course, she would expand the series’ musical styles in later installments, but she had to start somewhere right? Get the two release of Wild Arms if you’re a completist that doesn’t mind the occasional bump along the journey.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Eduardo Friedman. Last modified on August 1, 2012.